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Wiltshire Council innovates with AI to enhance school transport amid rising costs and taxi driver demand

Wiltshire Council is employing artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improve the efficiency of its home-to-school transport service, addressing high contract prices and a competitive marketplace. The new AI routing software aims to optimise the transport network, potentially reducing costs by reallocating vehicles more effectively. However, the council acknowledges the importance of considering individual pupil needs in this process.

Despite leveraging AI and leased vehicles to meet statutory obligations, challenges persist due to the varying levels of competition across the county, particularly in areas like Salisbury. The council is now evaluating the financial implications of its fleet operations, which could influence future decisions on whether to expand its fleet or rely more heavily on the market.

The demand for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) pupil transport is expected to rise significantly, with projections indicating an increase of 400 pupils within the next two to three years, bringing the total to approximately 1,800. This surge underscores the ongoing requirement for additional vehicles to fulfill statutory obligations.

In response to a growing need for taxi drivers, Cllr Allison Bucknell, Chair of the Taxi Provision Working Group, highlighted efforts to promote taxi driving as a viable career within the council, resulting in a successful recruitment campaign. Principal Compliance Officer Tom Ince noted an influx of new taxi driver applications, many from outside Wiltshire, attributed to licensing restrictions in neighbouring areas.

A recent benchmarking exercise led to a 10% increase in tariff 1 fares, with further adjustments contingent on evidence-based evaluations. The council maintains control over hackney carriage fares but not private hire agreements. Discussion also extended to taxi licensing fees, comparing Wiltshire's rates with those of Swindon and Bristol, and the potential impact of licensing non-local drivers on the council's reputation.


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